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Happy Birthday, Anthony Quinn, Iconic Mexican-American Actor

Last updated: February 15, 2023

Best remembered for his roles in “Zorba the Greek,” “Viva Zapata!” and “La Strada,” prolific actor Anthony Quinn was an icon of old Hollywood masculinity—on the screen, on stage and in real life. Quinn also gained fame as a sculptor and a painter, and later in life became notorious for his numerous romantic adventures.

Anthony Quinn’s Early Days

Anthony Rudolph Oaxaca Quinn was born on April 21, 1915, in Chihuahua, Mexico. He was of mixed ancestry; his mother, Manuela, was half-Indian and half-Mexican, while his father, Francisco, was half-Irish and half-Mexican. His parents had fought with Pancho Villa during the Mexican Revolution.

As an infant, Anthony was taken by his mother across the border to El Paso, Texas, where his father eventually joined them. The family later moved to California and worked as migrant farmers until Francisco found a job as a grip and camera operator in Hollywood. Unfortunately, he died in a car accident when Anthony was only 9 years old.

Following the death of his father, Anthony left school and started working, trying a number of different jobs including boxing, street preaching, the priesthood and architecture. He began taking acting lessons in the late 1920s, and obtained his first non-speaking movie role in 1936, as a convict in the movie “Parole.” A speaking part as a Cheyenne warrior in the film “Plainsman” came later that year.

Quinn’s Notable Accomplishments

Sources in this Story

  • The Anthony Quinn Trust: About Anthony Quinn
  • The New York Times: Anthony Quinn Dies at 86; Played Earthy Tough Guys
  • Oscar winner Anthony Quinn dies at 86
  • ArtsEditor: Unquelled Persona: Encountering the artwork of Anthony Quinn

Quinn appeared in dozens of films in the late ‘30s and ‘40s, usually as an outlaw or rugged bad guy. He was tall, dark and powerfully built, and “Hollywood seemed to consider his looks ideal to represent almost every ethnicity,” says The New York Times; he portrayed Mexicans, Indians, Italians, Arabs, Asians and various other ethnicities in his early career.

In 1947, he began performing on Broadway and secured the role of Stanley Kowalski in “A Streetcar Named Desire.” His performance on the stage jump-started his film career, and he would produce his finest and most renowned film work during the ‘50s and ‘60s.

He won two Academy Awards, first for his interpretation of Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata in “Viva Zapata!” (1952), and then for his portrayal of painter Paul Gauguin in “Lust for Life” (1956). He was also nominated for Best Actor for his appearances in “Wild Is the Wind” (1957) and “Zorba the Greek” (1964), likely the most memorable role of his career.

He appeared in a variety of exotic and historical roles, playing an Eskimo in “The Savage Innocents” (1960), a Russian pope in “The Shoes of the Fisherman” (1968), the Sheik Auda abu Tayi in “Lawrence of Arabia” (1962), and Chief Crazy Horse in “They Died With Their Boots On” (1941).

The Rest of the Story

The Man and His Work

Parallel to his career in theater and film, Quinn also worked as a painter, sculptor and jewelry designer. His work was exhibited in the United States and abroad, and continues to sell at galleries and auctions today.

Quinn had a tumultuous personal life; he was married three times, and was involved in a variety of affairs with film stars and other members of the industry. His first marriage to Katherine DeMille, adopted daughter of famous Hollywood director Cecil B. DeMille, “almost ended on the wedding night, when Mr. Quinn learned that his 26-year-old bride was not a virgin,” The New York Times reported in 2001.

Quinn wrote about the incident in his autobiography, “One Man Tango” (1995). After this scandal, he married Iolanda Addolari, with whom he stayed for 31 years. They divorced in 1997 so Quinn could marry Kathy Benvin, his former secretary, that same year.

On June 2, 2001, Quinn died from respiratory failure. He was 86 years old, had fathered 13 children and starred in more than 150 movies. To the end of his life, he personified the legend of the Hollywood macho man and the outlaw.

Charles Eames

Anita Gutierrez-Folch is a science enthusiast and writer who has a passion for exploring the wonders of space. She has a degree in astrophysics and has written extensively on topics ranging from the latest advancements in space technology to the mysteries of the universe.

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